To destroy is to “reduce an object to useless fragments or remains as rending, burning or dissolving, to put an end to, to extinguish, to kill, to neutralize”. So says one of the many dictionaries out there. This term is one which usually isn’t associated with good; it’s used to describe an act which is negative, one which usually has unwanted implications for those affected by it.
There is one glimmer of hope that comes with the chaos of destruction and that is the ability to rebuild greater and grander than before, but it’s all potential and in no way does that diminish the pain of destruction.
There are very clear laws given to the Jewish people about war; what we are allowed to dismantle and what we can’t take down. Among the many details, one strikes a chord and it is that we may not destroy a fruit-bearing tree during hostile encounters. We may have to move tanks in and this tree may be in the way, but that isn’t reason enough to cut down a living breathing entity that contributes to society. What is the message here?
I think it’s twofold. Firstly it is the recognition that war is inevitable, however that doesn’t mean we have a license to kill. We cannot just wreak havoc and cut down all that stands in our way. There is a certain level of responsibility that comes along with the fight and we must be sure to be aware of that. The second point and perhaps the more important one is the respect one must have for that which is alive and productive. It’s very easy to ‘cut down someone else’s tree’. In fact not only is it easy but sometimes we feel it’s necessary and needed. We think that this must be done in order for the objective to be reached. What we fail to realize is that cutting down this tree means the end of it. There is no ‘second chance’ as we can’t just replant it. Although it seems like the right move and one that will allow for growth to happen, we must think twice before acting on it.
Even more than that, once the ‘deed is done’ it will take many years to replace that tree. Even if we replant and help with the replanting, the person we uprooted will literally not be back to himself or herself for quite some time.
King Solomon said there is a time for everything, a time to destroy and a time to build which is true; we just need to be mindful of that which we are taking down.
Rabbi Mendy Hecht